Jazz, Swing and Blues great Ernie Fields collection is donated to the Oklahoma Historical Society

March 1, 2013
Contact: Kim Moyer
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Fields’ children, American Idol stage musician and an acclaimed journalist, donate family artifacts from their father as well as Idol memorabilia

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – Ernie Fields Jr., a stage musician for American Idol, The Voice, and X Factor; and his sister Carmen Fields, an acclaimed journalist in the Boston area, have donated items from their famous father Ernie Fields Sr., and their own work, to the Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture.

The gift consists of artifacts, recordings, photographs, posters, and documents related to his father, Tulsa musician Ernie Fields Sr. The elder Fields began his career in music in the 1920s in Tulsa and quickly became a favorite on the “Chittlin’ Circuit,” a series of clubs and venues in the southern states that catered to African American audiences.

“My dad and Bob (Wills) would spend time together and they would get both of their bands together for late night jams after the paying gigs were over,” said Fields, Jr. in an interview with the OKPOP Museum staff.   Bob Wills had become famous broadcasting his dance shows from Cain’s Ballroom over the airwaves of KVOO.   Wills opened the doors of Cain’s to Ernie, Sr.’s band to be the first African-American band to perform there.

Ernie Fields’ bands played a mix of Jazz, Swing, and Blues. Despite segregation laws, they toured nationwide and recorded albums in New York and Los Angeles.  He had a national hit in 1959 with his rocking arrangement of Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood.”  The song charted for 16 weeks and reached number 4 on the Billboard Top 100.  His band also performed on the Dick Clark Show.

“It’s important to me and my sister that the state of Oklahoma honors my father’s legacy at the OKPOP museum,” Fields Jr. said. “The Ernie Fields Orchestra performed in all of the states, Canada, Mexico and Cuba.  But, by choice, Oklahoma remained home because of his committed connection and devotion to his family.”

Fields Sr. was born in Texas, but grew up in the historical all-black town of Taft, OK.  He graduated from Tuskegee Institute and began a professional music career, soloing on trombone and piano, arranging music and leading his band.  Fields was married to his wife Bernice and they raised their family in Tulsa. Fields Sr. was inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame in 1989 and died May 11, 1997.

Ernie Fields Jr., followed his father into the music business and played saxophone with the band when he was young.   After graduating from Booker T. Washington High School, he served in the army and went to college before returning to Tulsa to begin his music career. Fields Jr. has been the music contractor for American Idol since 2008, and several other television shows where he is responsible for hiring musicians to perform in house bands and musical productions. He has also played with diverse artists such as Lyle Lovett, Blake Shelton, and French pop legend Johnny Hallyday as well as legends of R&B and Jazz, including Bobby “Blue” Bland, B.B. King, Stevie Wonder, Rick James and Marvin Gaye.

The OKPOP Museum continues to collect important stories from Oklahomans in popular culture.  Jeff Moore, project director for the OKPOP Museum, said “It is critical that we collect, preserve, and share these objects and stories.  Oklahomans have made significant contributions to popular culture worldwide. If the OKPOP doesn’t bring these collections to Oklahoma, they will be donated to or acquired by institutions in New York, Los Angeles, Nashville, and Cleveland.”

Previous donations to the OKPOP related to Bob Wills and Leon Russell have already been announced in the last year.   Moore added “If the Oklahoma Historical Society wasn’t developing the OKPOP Museum, the Bob Wills and the Leon Russell collections would not be coming back to Oklahoma.”

About The Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture:

Upon construction, the museum will be located in the Brady Arts District of Tulsa. The 75,000-square-foot, four story building will be dedicated to the creative spirit of Oklahoma’s people and the influence of Oklahoma artists on popular culture around the world.  The underlying theme of this innovative and interactive museum will be “Crossroads of Creativity,” whether it is in the field of music, film, television, theatre, pop art, comic books, literature or humor.  The museum will collect artifacts, archival materials, film and video and audio recordings that reflect Oklahoma’s influence nationally and internationally.

A project of the Oklahoma Historical Society
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